'Can I come in?'
Every bone in Elisaveta’s body knew that Theo didn’t just want to continue their chat – and every bone urged her to say yes. She kept her eyes fixed on her shoes, unable to look Theo in the eye, terrified of what she might see there, terrified of being tempted. The only answer was ‘no’. Otherwise she’d be betraying everything she was, everything she believed in: faith, love, honesty.
She wouldn't be able to return to work. She wouldn’t be able to look at herself in the mirror. She would tear her life apart, for what? A few hours of happiness followed by a lifetime of regret.
But she was achingly aware his gaze was fixed on her and she could resist no more. Slowly, trembling, she looked up to be confronted not by lust or attraction but by a deep sadness she recognised all too well.
He wasn't asking her for some kind of sordid affair; he was asking for solace before he made the kind of sacrifice she understood completely. The kind where you packed up your own wishes and dreams and needs and did what was right. She hadn't lied; she did enjoy her job, but at eighteen she had dreamed of a whole different life, of medical school. But there had been bills to pay and her mother needed her and so she had chosen a different path. It had been the right thing to do. But how she wished someone had been by her side making that alternative route a little less lonely.
Just like she could accompany Theo a little way down his path.
They didn't speak as she fumbled with the key, as they walked up the narrow staircase. Didn't speak, didn't touch. They didn't need to; they were connected at their very core.
The flat she used was a large studio with a kitchenette, a bathroom and a sitting area with a pullout bed. Thank goodness she hadn't made the bed up before she went out. A sitting room was one thing, a bedroom quite another. Her dress for tomorrow, a sensible grey shift dress with a matching jacket, perfect for a PA attending her boss's wedding, hung on the wardrobe door, a reminder of why she was here. Of what awaited him. Uncomfortable, Elisaveta moved quickly to the kitchen. 'Tea? There's no coffee I'm afraid.'
Was this how Sofia felt, entertaining the king in Villa Rosa? It had always seemed so glamorous to Elisaveta, the beautiful woman in the pink villa on the clifftop awaiting her royal lover. Now, as she filled the kettle with trembling hands, it didn't seem glamorous at all. It seemed lonely and a little sad and she knew that no matter how much she was tempted, no matter how much she wanted to, that she wouldn't - couldn't - sleep with Theo. Not tonight, not at any point. His might be a marriage of convenience but it was a marriage nonetheless, and she, Elisaveta Marlowe, was not going to be any man's mistress.